Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

Just in: Indonesia landslide toll jumps to 21.

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The death toll has nearly doubled from the 11 deaths reported on Sunday.

Indonesian rescuers dug through mud Wednesday as they scrambled to find survivors from weekend landslides caused by torrential rains, as the death toll rose to 21 and 19 others were listed as missing.

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A landslide struck the village of Sumedang in West Java Saturday night, followed hours later by a second that engulfed rescuers digging for survivors.

And 19 residents are still missing, including a half dozen children, but the chance of finding any of them alive was slim, said Bandung rescue agency spokeswoman Seni Wulandari.

“We are still stepping up efforts to find their bodies,” she added.

Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Indonesian archipelago, where seasonal downpours are frequent and relentless.

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In September last year, at least 11 people were killed in landslides on Borneo island, while a few months earlier landslides in Sulawesi killed dozens.

Indonesia’s disaster agency estimates that 125 million Indonesians — nearly half the country’s population — live in areas at risk of landslides.

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#Newsworthy

Thai PM, Chan-o-cha orders Police crackdown over democracy protest.

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Lawmakers have this week been discussing various proposals for constitutional change, which mostly exclude any reform to the monarchy.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered security agencies on Thursday to crack down on pro-democracy protesters, days after police used tear gas and water cannon at a Bangkok rally.

The country has been rocked since July by youth-led protests demanding a new constitution, unprecedented calls to reform the untouchable monarchy, and for Prayut to resign.

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Clashes outside parliament Tuesday between pro-democracy protesters and hardline royalists marked a steep rise in violence, with six people shot.

A day later, some 20,000 people massed in Bangkok’s main shopping district, and protesters daubed anti-royal graffiti outside the Thai National Police headquarters.

Prayut, who seized power in a 2014 coup, issued a statement Thursday warning protesters will be hit with the full force of the law.

“The situation is still not resolved in any good direction and is likely to develop into more conflict leading to more violence,” he said.

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“If this is left… it may damage the nation and the most beloved institution,” he added, referring to the monarchy.

He said the government and security agencies need to “intensify their practices”, and enforce all sections of all laws.

This could mean more charges under the country’s harsh royal defamation laws, which are routinely interpreted to include any criticism of any aspect of the monarchy — including content posted or shared on social media.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn asked the Thai government in June to suspend using the lese majeste laws, but human rights critics say there is a host of other legislation that authorities can use to target democracy activists.

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Asked if the government was giving the nod to police to pursue lese majeste charges, spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri did not rule it out.

“The protesters should respect all laws in general. We don’t specify whether we would be enacting any laws specifically,” he told AFP.

The king sits at the apex of Thai power, supported by the military and the kingdom’s billionaire clans, and the royal family enjoys support from mostly older conservatives.

On Wednesday they agreed to look at two proposals for a “constitutional drafting assembly”, while rejecting more far-reaching bills to revise the role of the royals and change the makeup of the senate.


#Newsworthy…

Just in: Indonesia falls into recession in two decades.

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COVID-19 have topped 420,000 and there have been more than 14,000 deaths, putting Indonesia among the worst-hit Asian countries.

Indonesia’s virus-hit economy contracted in the third quarter, plunging it into its first recession since the archipelago was mired in the Asian financial crisis more than 20 years ago.

Activity in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy slumped 3.49 percent on-year in July-September, the statistics agency said Thursday, with tourism, construction and trade among the hardest-hit sectors.

The data marked the second consecutive quarter of contraction after a 5.3 percent decline in April-June.

Indonesia last suffered a recession in 1998 and 1999 during a regional currency crisis that helped force the resignation of its long-term dictator Suharto.

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However, the depth of the current decline was easing, the agency said, adding it pointed to stronger figures in the last quarter of the year.

The economy “continues showing a contraction year-over-year but the quarter-on-quarter recovery was quite strong”, said Anwita Basu, head of Asia Country Risk at Fitch Solutions in Singapore, highlighting a gradual pickup in manufacturing.

“Some government efforts to continue with public works is reflected in that,” she added.

Indonesia’s economy was also in better shape than two decades ago, with once-troubled commercial banks now stronger and ample foreign currency reserves at the central bank, Basu said.

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Governments around the world have been struggling to contain the coronavirus, which has forced the shutdown of vast parts of the global economy.

Indonesia’s central bank cut interest rates several times this year in a bid to boost the struggling economy, while the government has unveiled more than $48 billion in stimulus to help offset the impact of the virus, which forced a large-scale shutdown that hammered growth.

Several million Indonesians have been laid off or furloughed as the vast country, home to nearly 270 million people, has battled to contain the crisis.

However, the true scale of the crisis is widely believed to be much bigger in Indonesia, which has one of the world’s lowest testing rates.

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President Joko Widodo has been widely criticised over his government’s handling of the pandemic, as it appeared to prioritise the economy.

Boosting annual growth above five percent had been a key priority for Widodo in his second term, which began late last year.

On Monday, the president signed into law a package of pro-business bills aimed at cutting red tape and drawing more foreign investment as he pushes an infrastructure-focused policy.

But the controversial legislation has sparked mass protests in cities across the nation, as activists warned it would be catastrophic for labour and environmental protections.


#Newsworthy…

Two Myanmar soldiers sent to Hague after Rohingya murder confession.

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The two men reportedly admitted to killing dozens of villagers in northern Rakhine state, burying them in mass graves.

Two Myanmar soldiers have been taken to The Hague after confessing to murdering Rohingya minority during a 2017 crackdown, two news organisations and a rights group have reported.

The two men admitted to killing dozens of villagers in northern Rakhine state and burying them in mass graves, according to the New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the non-profit Fortify Rights, citing statements the men made on videos filmed in Myanmar this year.

NRM on Tuesday said it has not seen the videos cited by the news organisations.

Noble Reporters Media learnt it could not independently confirm that the two soldiers committed the crimes to which they confessed.

Myanmar government and military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.

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The reports said the men had been in the custody of the Arakan Army group, which is now fighting Myanmar government troops in Rakhine state, when they made the admissions and were later taken to The Hague in the Netherlands, where they could appear as witnesses or face trial.

It was not clear from the reports how the men fell into the hands of the Arakan Army, why they were speaking, or how they were transported to The Hague and under whose authority.

A spokesman for the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, said it did not have the men in custody.

“No. These reports are not correct. We don’t have these persons in the ICC custody,” said the spokesman, Fadi el Abdallah.

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Payam Akhavan, a Canadian lawyer representing Bangladesh in a filing against Myanmar at the ICC, said the two men had appeared at a border post requesting the protection of the government and had confessed to the mass murder and rape of Rohingya civilians in 2017.

“All I can say is that those two individuals are no longer in Bangladesh,” he said.

A spokesman for the Arakan Army, Khine Thu Kha, said the two men were deserters and were not held as prisoners of war.

He did not comment further on where the men were now but said the group was “committed to justice” for all victims of the Myanmar military.

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Myanmar has repeatedly denied allegations of genocide, saying its military operations in 2017 were targeting Rohingya rebels who attacked police border posts.

Speaking from the Hague, NRM official said that the case had been stalled for a long time because Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the basis for ICC. But with Bangladesh being a signatory, the ICC has ruled that is has jurisdiction over the case

Myanmar soldiers on foot-patrol along makeshift tent camps for internally displaced Rohingya in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State [File: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo]

“Part of the crimes that happened in Myanmar, were happening in Bangladesh as well. For example, the forced deportations, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh. That’s why the case has been speeding up since last November,” she said.

“The court has ordered the investigation to be continued and if we have these two former military men… if they say they were involved and have given a very detailed account of what they did and who was with them, then this will be an enormous move for this investigation.”

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Commenting from Amman, Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, said that if the evidence turns out to be credible, it would be a huge push for the investigation.

“While the ICC has made no comment on whether or not they have them [the men] in custody, the stories [of the soldiers] are said to be credible and corroborative,” she said explaining that the statements included a mention of ordered killings and rape.

“While they [the soldiers] may be very low in the ranks, we hope more will come forward. There was shown to be a clear chain of command,” she added.

The ICC is investigating the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other human rights violations.

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“The office does not publicly comment on speculation or reports regarding its ongoing investigations, neither does the office discuss specifics of any aspect of its investigative activities,” a statement from the ICC prosecutor’s office said.

Myanmar is also facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, though that body does not bring cases against individuals or hear witnesses.

In 2015, before the alleged 2017 genocide, Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media Investigative Unit revealed the inner workings of the Myanmar regime, drawing on documents from the Myanmar military, an unpublished United Nations report and other government paperwork.

Those documents, assessed by Yale University Law School and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, constituted “strong evidence” of a state-led genocide according to experts.


#Newsworthy…

1MDB probe: Malaysia drops alleged criminal charges against Goldman

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US bank had agreed to pay Malaysia $3.9bn to settle probe into its alleged role in scandal involving state fund 1MDB.

Malaysian prosecutors have withdrawn criminal charges against three Goldman Sachs units accused of misleading investors over $6.5bn in bond sales they helped organise for a state fund, the Bernama state news agency has reported.

Friday’s move comes after the US banking giant agreed to pay $3.9bn to Malaysia to settle a probe into its alleged role in the scandal involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the fund which counts former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak as one of its co-founders.

The United States Department of Justice estimates $4.5bn was misappropriated from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014, including some of the funds that Goldman Sachs helped raise.

The units – based in London, Hong Kong and Singapore – had pleaded not guilty in February and the bank has consistently denied wrongdoing.

“Goldman Sachs International Ltd, Goldman Sachs (Asia) LLC and Goldman Sachs (Singapore) are therefore discharged amounting to an acquittal from all four charges made against them,” Bernama quoted High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan as saying.

The United States Department of Justice estimates $4.5bn was misappropriated from Malaysia’s 1MDB between 2009 and 2014, including some of the funds that Goldman Sachs helped raise in bond sales [File: Olivia Harris/Reuters]

Lawyers for Goldman Sachs and the prosecution could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Suthe part of its deal with Malaysia, Goldman has paid $2.5bn in cash and guaranteed the return of $1.4bn in 1MDB assets seized around the world.

Goldman Sachs had to boost its legal reserves by $2.01bn to account for the Malaysia settlement, shaving its second-quarter net income by 85 percent and wiping out what had been a surprise jump in profit due to trading gains.

Malaysian prosecutors will also cease pursuing the case against Goldman Sachs’s 17 current and former directors, the Bloomberg news agency reported, quoting people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named as the information is private.

The scandal surrounding 1MDB had led to Najib’s removal in 2018 and triggered corruption investigations in at least 10 countries, including Singapore and Switzerland. Najib was found guilty of corruption last month and sentenced to 12 years in prison in the first trial over the scandal to reach a conclusion. Najib has maintained that he is innocent.


#Newsworthy…

Thai King, Maha reinstates ex consort after 10 months of stripping her of all titles

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Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has reinstated 35-year-old Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi as his royal consort on Aug 28, the Royal Palace announced in the Royal Gazette.

“Since Ms Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi is flawless, a Royal Command was given to Ms Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi to hold the noble title of Royal Noble Consort Sineenat Bilaskalayani, along with ranks in the Royal Office and the military, and receive royal decorations of all classes,” the palace said in a Royal Gazette dated Aug 29.

According to the announcement, it is to be regarded that the royal noble consort has never previously been stripped of her noble titles, military ranks or royal decorations.

The reinstatement took place after King Vajiralongkorn stripped her of all military ranks, decorations and royal titles in October last year for being “ungrateful” and behaving “in ways unbecoming of her title”.

Her downfall came less than three months after King Vajiralongkorn granted her the title of Chao Khun Phra or royal noble consort – the first such appointment in nearly a century.

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According to the Palace’s statement on Oct 21, 2019, Sineenat had shown her objection and exerted pressure against Queen Suthida’s installation. She wished to be installed as the queen instead.

“She is also not content with the title bestowed upon her, doing everything to rise to the level of the queen. She lacks the understanding of the good traditions of the royal court. She displays disobedience against the king and the queen,” the statement said then.

Sineenat was born in the northern province of Nan on Jan 26, 1985. She graduated from the Royal Thai Army Nursing College and trained as a pilot in Thailand and abroad.

She was first bestowed the title of royal noble consort on King Vajiralongkorn’s 67th birthday in July last year.

SOURCE: NOBLE REPORTERS MEDIA, CNA


#Newsworthy

Khmer Rouge Prison Commander, Duch dies at 77.

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Duch oversaw the torture and confessions of thousands of men, women and children at Tuol Sleng, a school turned prison.


Duch, the former Khmer Rouge commander who oversaw the mass murder of at least 14,000 Cambodians at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, died on Wednesday. He was 77.

Kaing Guek Eav, who was better known by his alias Duch, was the first senior member of the Khmer Rouge to face trial for his role in a regime blamed for at least 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Duch died at 00:52 am (17:52 GMT on Tuesday) at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh, Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. He gave no details of the cause, but Duch had been ill in recent years.

In 2010, a United Nations tribunal found him guilty of mass murder, torture and crimes against humanity at Tuol Sleng, a former high school in Phnom Penh, which is now a museum and a moving memorial to those who died.

He was given a life sentence two years later after his appeal – that he was just a junior official following orders – was rejected.

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His death is “a reminder that justice is a long and difficult” process, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which conducts research on the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Perhaps it can bring some satisfaction to the living, and the fallen can now rest in peace,” Youk told AFP news agency.

‘Smash to bits’
At Tuol Sleng, codenamed “S-21”, detainees were tortured by Khmer Rouge guards, many of them teenagers because Duch saw them as “like a blank piece of paper” and easily indoctrinated.

The guards sought confessions for non-existent crimes and were instructed to “smash to bits” traitors and counter-revolutionaries. For the Khmer Rouge, that could mean anyone from school teachers to children, to pregnant women and “intellectuals” identified simply because they wore glasses.

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Duch – himself a former maths teacher – had an obsessive eye for detail and kept his school-turned-jail meticulously organised. He maintained a huge archive of photos, confessions and other documents with which prosecutors were able to trace the harrowing final months of thousands of inmates.

“The crimes committed by the accused at S-21 are rarely matched in modern history in terms of their combined barbarity, scope, duration, premeditation and callousness,” International Co-prosecutor Bill Smith told the trial, at one point.

Duch – by the time of his trial a born-again Christian – expressed regret for his crimes.

“I would like to acknowledge my legal responsibility for all the crimes that happened at S-21, especially the torture and execution of people there,” he told the court in March 2009.

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Duch joined the Maoist movement led by Pol Pot in 1967 and was put in charge of Tuol Sleng after the regime seized power in 1975.

In their quest to build an agrarian utopia and rewrite Cambodian history the Khmer Rouge cleared cities and forced people into the countryside where they died from disease, starvation, overwork or execution. The brutality came to an end in 1979 when Vietnamese forces overthrew the regime in 1979, but Duch slipped away from S-21 and disappeared. Many assumed he had died.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, stands in a courtroom during a pre-trial in Phnom Penh in 2008 [File: Tang Chhinsothy/Pool via Reuters]

Total control
But in 1999, Nic Dunlop, a British photographer visiting a remote village near the Cambodia-Thai border recognised him, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually led to his arrest.

In an account of Duch and his atrocities, The Lost Executioner, Dunlop wrote that the former commander’s control in S-21 “was total”.

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“Nothing in the former schoolhouse took place without Duch’s approval,” he wrote. “Not until you walk through the empty corridors of Tuol Sleng does Stalin’s idiom that one death is a tragedy – a million a statistic, take on a terrifying potency.”

At S-21, new prisoners had their mugshots taken, and hundreds of those pictures now line the walls.

Norng Chan Phal, one of the few people to have survived S-21, was a boy when he and his parents were sent to Duch’s prison and interrogated on suspicion of having links to Vietnam, considered an enemy by the Khmer Rouge.

His parents were tortured and killed but Chan Phal survived to give testimony at Duch’s trial in 2010.

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“He was cooperative, he spoke to the court frankly. He apologised to all S-21 victims and asked them to open their hearts. He apologised to me too,” Chan Phal told Reuters.

“He apologised. But justice is not complete.”

The work of the tribunal -a hybrid court of international and Cambodian judges – was tainted by its limited scope, the age of its defendants and accusations of political meddling.

It recorded only three convictions – including Duch’s.


#Newsworthy…